China’s business world is littered with rags-to-riches entrepreneurs—Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, was an English teacher before starting Alibaba. Not all such magnates are equal, however, and joining Ma in the upper echelons of China’s rich list was Wang Wei, chairman of delivery and logistics company SF Express, who initially started out by lugging packages between Hong Kong and mainland China, operating in a legal gray zone as he did so. But now SF Express has grown to become the most successful logistics company in China. Listed in Shenzhen Stock Exchange in early 2017, the company has many competitive advantages over its counterparts.
Fifteen years ago, pet ownership was seen as a pastime enjoyed only by the rich, but today more and more Chinese families are hosting fluffy friends. In China, 73.2% of pet owners fall into the 20–35-year-old category, meaning the vast majority of pet owners are not retired people who have spare time, but the young professionals who tend to be more generous on spending money on their pets—for their food, toy and spiritual needs. China’s pet economy is growing like never before, and the trend will only continue.
Some people think Chinese people and enterprises have not formed the habit of giving. Is it true? Although it is the world’s second largest economy and has the second largest number of billionaires, China ranks 144th out of 145 countries on the 2015 CAF World Giving Index, which measures engagement in charity and willingness to help strangers. It is also reported that China’s top 100 philanthropists gave $3.2 billion—which is less than the amount given by just the top three givers in America. But despite the disappointing numbers, there are reasons to believe philanthropy is on the rise, with an awakening of social awareness and increasingly new ways to give.
At the enormous Pacific Department Store on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road, barriers block the street entrances and windows are shuttered. The store, which was one of the largest on one of the city’s busiest shopping streets for nearly two decades, closed in January. The shell of the store now sits incongruously opposite the K11 mall, which has been thriving ever since implementing a smart re-think of the shopping mall concept a couple of years ago. The lesson of the different fates of these two shopping centers is clear—adapt or die. Retail is not declining in China, it’s just changing.
Predicting China’s future is hard given its size, history and complexity of population, but it’s easy to share an opinion about the country—anybody can come in and say something about China, whether it’s news media or self-styled pundits. The cost of entry for having a view on China is so low that basically anybody can have one. The ongoing topic is the Chinese economy: bulls and bears have been arguing non-stop about the state of the economy. Damien Ma, Fellow of the Think Tank at the Chicago-based Paulson Institute, talks about how find the true signal in the noise, and discusses the less relevant factors one should dismiss.
Under the banner industrial policy “Made in China 2025”, China seeks to replace the advanced foreign manufactured goods that it has long relied upon with domestically-produced goods. But the effort is spooking the foreign business community, and the plan may not address China’s most genuine needs. Precise details of the implementation of the grand policy are only now beginning to emerge. For Chinese companies, the real long-term impact of the plan is at best unclear. But for foreign companies, although there will be business opportunities in the short-term, the plan as a whole presents big challenges to their future in China.
Foreign Direct Investment has been an incredibly important catalyst for China’s economic development, bringing in the capital, technology and know-how that made China the world’s factory. But China is no longer so fresh and attractive to foreign investors as return on assets is falling. FDI to China increased 3.9% on the year to RMB 731.8 billion in the first 11 months of 2016—the 2015 expansion was 5.6%. Besides, increasing labor costs have become a heavy burden to foreign enterprises, especially manufacturers, who can cut costs by moving to Southeast Asia.
China’s One Belt, One Road initiative is the fusion of two development schemes—the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Together they comprise infrastructure between 65 countries containing 63% of the world population, more than 35% of global merchandise trade, and 30% of global GDP. To date about $ 150 billion in investment has been committed.
Seven years ago, around 70% of passengers in US-China air trips were American. But today, more than 50% of travelers are Chinese. Flying used to be a luxury mode for travel in China, but now is for the masses. Data shows that by 2029 China will overtake the US as the world’s largest passenger market. The increasing passenger demand has not only brought Chinese airlines big successes in the past decade but also some real challenges like lengthy delays and poor service. In fact, Chinese airlines are struggling to keep up with growth in demand, and compared to foreign counterparts, they are not as global nor as profitable as they should be.
Just a few years ago, China was a major obstacle to a global agreement on climate change. But the attitude of the government has changed, to the delight of all. But it will take more than good will to clean up and it will be a long time before the smog lifts. In this sense, the idea that China will be a ‘Green Leader’ anytime soon says more about how far they have to go than how far they have come. Yet in recognizing the problems and directing investments towards new technologies, China has stumbled upon a realistic expectation of leadership in the energy technologies of the low-carbon future.